Sydney Customs House have rolled out the green carpet to unveil a unique addition to their architectural history. They have been given an ultra-modern edge with the a futuristic yet organic 3D structure known as the ‘Green Void’, the latest collaboration between MakMax Australia and Chris Bosse of LAVA.

The lightweight Lycra sculpture hovers within the Customs House atrium, taking in Café Sydney’s top floor position stretching to the model of Sydney incased in the glass floor at ground level. The translucent fabric allows ample amounts of sunlight through from the atrium some five floors above creating a surreal experience as the surroundings take on a lime green glow. At night, the structure is illuminated to take on the look of lava bubbling up from a volcano.

MakMax Australia and Chris Bosse have previously worked on projects such as the Moet and Chandon Marquee and POL Oxygen stand. Being a heritage listed building; many challenges were faced in the design process. They had to create a surface floating in space, supported by a heritage listed façade which we were not allowed to permanently anchor to, as well as support a fixed fabric edge that was not excessively heavy.

The project shows a new way of digital workflow, generating space out of light weight material in a short time. The computer-model feeds directly into the finite element software for generation of true fabric form, which marries with the manufacturing process.

Lycra has been given new life with applications such as custom designed fabrics that stretch the possibilities of modern architecture. The fabric is a standard 80% Nylon/20% Lycra which is sourced from a manufacturer dealing with dancewear manufacturers.

With sustainability as the main criterion of every architect’s design concept, MakMax Australia use bespoke tensile membrane structures and minimal materials. The total fabric weighs 45 kilograms and is stretched over 12% past its original size to create its final shape. The use of such fabric allows it to be folded and fit inside a sports bag, yet has elasticity to fill a volume of 160 cubic metres. The total surface area is 233 square metres. Minimal amounts of aluminium and hardware were a necessity to enhance the fabrics natural curvature. The fabric is supported by only five rings; intricate patterns limited by the 1.5 metre fabric roll width create the structures form. The complete structure including the aluminium edges weighs 210 kilograms.

The form was taken from an architectural model developed by LAVA. By utilising the force density shaping and elastic analysis, the final shape was found to complement ring supports. Cutting patterns were developed through scribing geodesics through the structure at strategic locations and flattening by using an energy method that can handle the highly curved surface. The riggers dubbed the structure ‘Shrek’s ears’, which is an example of digital media being translated into fabric design.